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ASU expert worries relaxed mask wearing causing new virus surge

(Arizona State University Photo)

PHOENIX – A prominent health expert at Arizona State University is urging Arizonans to avoid large group gatherings and to continue strict mask wearing to slow the second surge of coronavirus in the state.

Biodesign Institute Director Dr. Joshua LaBaer told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Gaydos and Chad on Tuesday that Arizona is already in a second wave of the virus based on the state’s numbers since the end of September.

“I think we’re already in it. If you look at our numbers, we’ve been pretty much rising since the end of September, and I think we’re continuing that trend so probably three weeks of growth here, so we are in another surge now,” LaBaer said.

On Monday, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 1,040 new coronavirus cases and seven additional deaths. Those numbers have been steadily rising with the state seeing an increase in the seven-day average from 459.86 on Sept. 27 to 835.29 on Monday, according to tracking by The Associated Press.

LaBaer said that while the second wave of the virus is primarily showing up in younger people, he believes that transmission is coming from social gatherings.

“Something that we’re starting to observe now is that although people in the stores are wearing masks, people are starting to get together in groups, in family groups or social groups, and they’re probably not wearing masks,” LaBaer said.

LaBaer said that the evidence from schools has not supported that the spread is coming from in-person learning. The universities in the state have also seen their COVID numbers come down drastically.

Arizona State University reported 104 total active coronavirus cases among students and faculty in Monday’s update. Since the start of August, the university has reported 2,055 total infections among students and staff.

At the University of Arizona, the school saw a peak in coronavirus cases during the week of Sept. 13 with 880 new cases, but last week they reported just 34 new positives.

LaBaer said ASU has avoided large numbers of coronavirus cases because the university has implemented strict on-campus mask mandates, banned large social gatherings and has widespread testing.

While Arizonans might being feeling the COVID fatigue, it’s important to continue proper health and safety measures to mitigate the spread of the virus.

“We’re all tired of wearing masks, we’re all tired spacing out, we want to see each other’s faces again,  but we do have to remind everybody that this thing is real and the minute we let up our guard, the virus will return, and it’s doing that now,” LaBaer said.

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